Type of fiction, collaboration, favorite authors, Judas, Robert E Lee & more
In a few words, how do you describe the type of fiction you write?
Factual fiction. I base most of my books on facts, then add fictional elements. 95% of my Area 51 series for example is factual, but the element where the WHY behind the WHAT is fictional is what makes it fun.
There are no rules except the three rules of rule-breaking:
1. Know the rule.
2. Have a good reason for breaking the rule.
3. Accept responsibility for breaking the rule.
You’ve also collaborated with romance author, Jennifer Crusie. What sparked the collaboration and how do you make it work?
We literally got off the same plane flying to the Maui Writers Conference and taught next door to each other. We each wanted to try something different. She asked if I wanted to write about a woman who runs a B&B or a film producer. I asked: How many people can I kill in the B&B?
What was your favorite book resulting from the collaboration?
I learned so much in the process. I learned about voice, about characters, about rewriting. Interestingly, the last manuscript I just finished, Nightstalkers: Area 51 reminds me a lot of our last collaboration, Wild Ride. My voice is very similar, except instead of third person, I’m writing omniscient, but it’s a very snarky omniscient.
I think we’ll see more and more collaborations as authors have to put more product out faster. Also, it allows you to reach a wider audience. I’d be open to doing another collaboration in the romance field with an established author, especially as it’s got the best audience out there, especially for eBooks. With my coming releases from 47North on 11 December, it could be a great complement to that.
What kind of books do you like to read? Which authors in particular influenced you?
As per Stephen King’s advice: better writers than me. I read what my wife tells me to. She’s the smartest person I’ve ever met.
I love Tolkein, Asimov, McMurtry, Richard Russo, Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly, a wide range of authors.
Are you a character driven or plot driven writer?
I can do plot. So as I’ve gotten better as a writer, I focus more on character. A key is making sure a character is consistent. And also know their secret. Everyone has a secret.
Make the characters human. In my editorial letter on Nightstalkers, my editor pointed out that the 16 year old girl my Special Ops team runs into during their mission affects every member of the team and shows their human side. She changes all of them, makes them better people.
Can you tell us one–advice for writers who are just starting out?
In these days of self-publishing don’t waste time on promotion and marketing like most people. Focus on content. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Who was your most difficult character?
Robert E. Lee in Duty, Honor, Country: A Novel of West Point & The Civil War. He doesn’t have a big role in the book, but after focusing a lot of time on U.S. Grant who does have a big role, I had one of my fictional characters show up at Arlington, his home before the war. And I started to wonder, as a West Point graduate, about all the cadets and graduates who broke their oath of office to fight for the South. That must have been a terrible decision and it had terrible consequences.
I also had to understand Lee as a leader. While he was a brilliant tactician, I do question his strategic abilities.
If you could go back and change the ending to any novel you’d like, which would it be and what would be the change?
Hard to say. I know the movie adaptation of The Mist was horrid. Same with Starship Troopers.
Larry McMurtry is a great writer, but did Gus have to die?
Your latest title tackles some religious themes. What made you decide to write about Judas, the Great Betrayer?
Because we don’t know exactly what happened? He had a role to play. What would have happened if he had not done what he did? I’m not saying it was a good role, but who knows? I, Judas: The Fifth Gospel has been well received overall.
Are you at all fearful of taking on such a controversial topic?
Not particularly because I’m not taking a stand one way or the other, which is kind of the point of the book. I don’t know and I don’t pretend to know for others. Each person needs to examine things for themselves and make decisions. I respect people who have faith, regardless of what it is in.